/ 2 May 2017

​Africa needs a new approach to development

An illegal oil refinery site in the creeks of an Ogoni community in Nigeria's Niger Delta on July 7 2010.
An illegal oil refinery site in the creeks of an Ogoni community in Nigeria's Niger Delta on July 7 2010.

The commodities downturn has revealed the fragility and structural weaknesses of many African economies. With fast-growing populations, African states are under intense pressure to deliver for their citizens. At the same time, austerity is affecting Africa’s donors, with foreign governments focused on domestic priorities rather than overseas largesse.

Climate change and income inequality are fuelling conflict and migration and creating new humanitarian challenges. As David Miliband, president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, has said, “the scale and complexity of current humanitarian needs are increasingly out of step with the resources, policies and practices available to meet them”.

It’s clear to us that we need a new approach to development. We need to rethink the role of the state and the contribution of donors and the private sector to sustainable development. We need progressive new agreements that engage all actors to solve the continent’s toughest, most intractable development challenges together. We have the frameworks to guide this. The sustainable development goals alone contain 17 goals and 169 targets.

In our view, enterprises have a vital role to play in development. They are skilled at delivering public goods and services and can often be held more accountable than governments. Governments must understand their limitations and recognise that they alone don’t hold the solutions.

Countries such as Botswana realised this long ago and have managed to create inclusive growth by enshrining co-operation and conversation with industry and civil society in the enforcement of mining laws, for example, to generate shared value for society from its diamond wealth.

Rwanda holds some lessons for us, too. The discipline introduced into its development planning process now extends to the use of data and evidence from industry and civil society for policymaking.

Across the board, we need to encourage greater collaboration and greater pooling of evidence from governments, donors, the private sector and nongovernmental organisations to determine which policies deliver the greatest positive effect. At the heart of this needs to be a focus on the beneficiaries, the people who all too often are passive recipients rather than active participants in the development process.

We need to focus on measuring not just outcomes but effect; not how many classrooms were built or teachers hired but how many children are receiving a quality education and building skills and knowledge that they can deploy productively in decent jobs.

Defining these collective goals, through the sustainable development goals framework, and creating clear accountability around each actor’s part in achieving the goal needs to be given much more focus.

New coalitions of donors, corporates, governments and civil society — powered by new models of blended finance — offer fresh solutions to old problems.

By freeing parties from the restraints of their traditional roles, each actor can be encouraged to bring their full skill set, networks and technologies to bear. This is about solving the thorniest market failures and the most intractable social challenges, which in turn will create more predictable operating environments and a larger addressable consumer market for industry — critical factors for job creation on a vast scale.

We are advocating for a development model that looks at the contribution of diverse partners to deliver a positive outcome and solve different aspects of a complex problem. This might be stimulating agricultural production in northern Zambia or it might be cleaning up the Niger Delta and creating sustainable income-generation opportunities.

That’s the model we need in Africa, and a model that Africa can export to the rest of the world.

Marcus Courage is the founder and chief executive of strategic advisory firm Africa Practice. Patrick Utomi is a Nigerian professor of political economy and management expert. They were in conversation at the inaugural Positive Impact Summit hosted by Palladium.